Diabetes is a detrimental disease in many ways. Cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, and nerve destruction are just a few of the more common issues the disease causes. Another issue that cannot be overlooked is diabetes’ impact on vision. High blood sugar can lead to problems like blurry vision, cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy. In fact, diabetes is the primary cause of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74.
How Diabetes Damages the Eyes
Eyes are structured like cameras. Light passes through the transparent front lenses until it reaches the back wall of the eye. This wall contains a thin piece of light-sensitive tissue: the retina. This incredibly sensitive organ’s fine mechanics can gradually be broken down by diabetes in the form of:
- Non-proliferative retinopathy: The tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina can be damaged by diabetes when they become leaky.
- Diabetic macular edema: Fluid leaks out of the blood vessels and into the retinal tissue which can cause vision problems. This causes the retina to thicken, creating blurred vision.
- Proliferative retinopathy: Blood vessels damaged by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar, or high blood glucose) begin to close, and a series of events begin. Starving retinal tissue produces growth causing new blood vessels to form on the surface of the retina.
- Retinal detachment: The new blood vessels that form on the eye are weak and can easily break and bleed. This leads to scar tissue, which can build up on the back wall of the eye and stretch the retina, eventually separating it from the back of the eye.
What You Can Do
Paying attention to your vision is important for your safety and overall health. Here are a few very simple things you can do to keep your eyes in good health:
- An annual eye exam: The easiest and most cost-effective way to evaluate eye health, identify vision problems, and detect close to 30 chronic health conditions.
- Know your family’s eye health history: Some eye conditions are hereditary and require early intervention.
- Wear protective eyewear: Especially when playing sports, doing home repairs or yard work, or in the workplace if necessary.
- Eat healthy foods: Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna, trout, and halibut all strengthen your eyes.
- Wear sunglasses: Be sure to look for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
- Give your eyes a rest: Digital eye strain is a growing problem. Try using the 20-20-20 rule throughout the day: every 20 minutes, look away from digital devices and focus about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.
If you have a moderate and stable form of diabetic retinopathy, treatment may not be necessary right away. Regular dilated eye exams can track the disease’s progression and controlling your blood sugar can prevent it from getting worse.
However, if your vision is already affected, it’s important to start treatment immediately. The treatments for macular edema and proliferative retinopathy can prevent vision loss and even restore some of your lost vision. They include:
- Anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) therapy, which involves injecting drugs into the eye to stop the leaking of the blood vessels.
- Steroids to reduce retinal swelling.
- Photocoagulation (laser therapy) to seal the blood vessels.
- Vitrectomy, a surgery to remove scar tissue and cloudy fluid from inside the eye.
Want more good news? Scientists are always studying better ways to find, treat and prevent vision loss in people with diabetes.